You may find it ironic that a forestry company has implemented a new system designed to eliminate paper, but that’s exactly what Nelson Forests’ newest software system is all about.
Innovation and technology are at the forefront of modern forestry and the latest clever business application by Nelson Forests is a great example of that, and a first in New Zealand. The software is the brainchild of Rotorua-based company, Trimble.
“The way we’ve done things forever, is that every load of logs that gets shifted out, every time you see a truck coming out of the forest, there has been a paper docket associated with that load that has all the details about where the wood is coming from and who it’s going to,” says Nigel Brabyn, Nelson Forests’ Business Performance Analyst. “The harvesting crew kept a carbon copy of the docket, the wood went via truck to a weighbridge and the load weights are added to the docket, a copy was left at the weighbridge, the truck driver had a copy, a copy went to the customer and then Nelson Forests ended up with the docket book after that.”
Paper dockets are laborious to organise and delicate and susceptible to the elements – think windy days, muddy harvesting sites, smoko break coffee spills, not to mention the ongoing issue of who’s got a pen when you need one …
“There was a whole industry associated with moving these paper dockets around,” says Nigel. “They all had to be collected, checked, and people would have to come and get new docket books. There’d be couriers running backwards and forwards moving a mountain of paper backwards and forwards.
“One of the biggest single savings is that we no longer have people driving all over the place with docket books, going to and from customer sites, weighbridges, and harvesting sites. It’s a huge fuel and environmental saving from having less vehicles on the roads. We also had a team of people here at the office checking each docket, putting them in boxes, and storing them – where they’d remain for a number of years. We thought, goodness, we can get on a plane and fly from here to Australia without a paper ticket, why can’t we move a truckload of logs?”
Supply chain tracking
OneFortyOne, the Australian company that owns Nelson Forests, was the first to implement the paperless system in Australia and Nelson Forests was the first company to officially go paperless here in New Zealand, as at midnight on 1 May 2019.
Now, each truck driver has a tablet connected to the system, as does each loader driver on each harvesting site. Information is instant, updated in real time in the cloud-based system, and accessible via the tablets, phone Apps, and from any desktop computer or laptop.
The information is able to be tracked and viewed by anyone in the supply chain that needs it, including customers, who can now see when loads of logs are coming and their ETA, with instant information provided about what’s been delivered. The tablets are robust and rugged, designed to withstand a metre drop onto concrete, and they can be rinsed off under the tap if they get muddy.
“The uptake from everybody has been great. There were a few doubters that said that people wouldn’t like it, but that’s not the case – nobody would go back to the old system now.”
The tablet system is a bit like a taxi dispatch system – the truck drivers can see where they need to go, how to get there, and what they’re going to pick up. The loader drivers each have a tablet and can upload information such as what logs they have available, and when they have loaded a truck ready for dispatch, and at weighbridge dispatch, the trucks show up on a list ranked under their various job statuses. The tablets also have a text messaging service so that everyone can communicate via message. Previously this would all have been done via radio.
Each harvesting site, customer location, and weighbridge is geofenced so that when a truck crosses the boundary of the geofence, the system automatically updates to mark the truck as ‘en route’, ‘arrived’, ‘departed’, or ‘delivered’. Similarly, the tablets in the trucks automatically update with colour coded entries for the drivers.
At Nelson Forests’ Belgrove Despatch Office, the team are the ‘air traffic controllers of trucks’. Before the new software system was introduced, you used to walk in to the office to hear a constant cacophony of sound coming from voices over radios and phones, from truck drivers, harvesting crews, customers – basically everyone in the log supply chain. Now it’s a quiet working environment with the intermittent cheery hello from a truck driver who calls in to weigh their truck load of logs and enter the weight into the system.
Ricky Hovenden, a despatcher for Nelson Forests’ at Belgrove, spends most of his day looking at real-time satellite images of trucks approaching harvesting and customer sites. “With the old system we had to be quite reactive and make allocation and operational decisions on the spot, whereas now we get about 45 mins to plan and allocate because we get a notification from the software that lists the truck as on its way. It means we can work smarter and more efficiently.”
From a harvesting crew perspective, the new system is a game changer. “It’s really good for us because we know what’s coming and we can plan and be prepared for that,” says Grant Gale, a loader driver for Nelson Forests’ Contractor Endurance Logging. “We now know in advance of the trucks arriving whereas before we could’ve just had three turn up at once. Prior to the new system we had to do paper dockets and then take in final stock sheets at the end of every day and drop them to the weighbridge. Now we just update the tablets as we go, and we know what they’re seeing is our available stock.”
The next step for Nelson Forests is to fine tune the system and use this tool to further influence and streamline other areas of the business, such as harvest planning.